What All School Districts Need in Order to Succeed

Despite the trendy popularity of charter schools in some circles, their wholesale replacement of traditional public schools is unnecessary. Not only do decades of data and research show this, but in each city there are plenty of successful public schools on the other side of the tracks or highway or river. The wealthy in the United States, regardless of locality, continue to have access to quality public education. So what should all parents already be able to choose from in their existing neighborhood public schools?

High Quality Teachers. Shortages of teachers caused by district instability, difficult working conditions and low pay have enabled thousands of teachers with just five weeks of summer training (and sometimes as few as 30 hours) to enter the classrooms of primarily poor children during the past 10 years. All children need teachers in every classroom who have extensive training in classroom management and developing and delivering curriculum. 

Early Childhood Education. There are very few gold standards in the research literature, but Pre-K is one them. For Latina/os and African Americans, Pre-K has been shown to be especially promising for narrowing the disparities in readiness when kids reach kindergarten. 

Equitable School Finance. Poverty and school finance do matter in schools, especially for immigrant students. Equitably funded schools ensure, as the U.S. Department of Education has said, that a “child’s critical opportunities are not a function of his or her ZIP code.” 

Local Accountability. Top-down accountability policies inspired by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law did not deliver on their goal to make all students academically proficient by 2014. Why? Because we need an accountability system that doesn’t stigmatize schools for students who score poorly on only one measure of success—high-stakes tests. 

Arts and Other Extracurriculars. National polls of parents show that one of the top three priorities for schools is funding for arts and other extracurriculars. The past two decades of testing and accountability policies have caused a neglect of these programs. 

Class size. California had a disastrous experience with class-size reduction because the shock to the system caused a variety of unintended consequences for teacher quality. However, research literature still solidly supports claims that smaller class sizes provide student success benefits for poor children.

Diverse Curriculum. The most recent research from Stanford University demonstrates that ethnic studies courses improve student achievement. State curriculum standards have been popular since the late 1990s. However, those standards often exclude communities of color. Since U.S. schools are now majority minority, it is important that we have curriculum that represents diverse populations.

School Desegregation. More than 60 years after the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools produced inherently unequal education, American schools remain remarkably segregated by race and ethnicity. We need to avoid a perpetually balkanized society. 

Ending the School to Prison Pipeline. Schools in the United States are sending droves of young black and brown students into the school-to-prison pipeline via harsh discipline policies. Educators must utilize innovative and restorative disciplinary approaches to stem this trend.


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